Thursday, October 22, 2009

Embrace the suck

5.5’s are normally pretty easy to climb. However, when it is hovering around 5°C, in the shade, with hands that feel like clubs and feet that don’t feel at all, it is slightly different. Combine that with trying to place gear, running it out and difficult routefinding, you have yourself quite the little adventure. This was my yesterday at Bon Echo, in Ontario.

Last week, my friend Mark asked me if I wanted to go to Bon Echo for the weekend. I agreed, but we didn’t have any way of getting there. So, I asked Dan if he wanted to come. He also agreed, but had to be back to work on Sunday morning. He was going to bring Natasha along, who had to work Friday night. So, it degraded down to a day trip on Saturday to Bon Echo. This was OK with everyone, though, since it was significantly cheaper that way.

Dan picked me up at 8:30AM on Saturday morning. From there, we went to the Pizza Pizza at Princess and Division to pick up Mark. The drive was uneventful, as they usually are, and we arrived at the Bon Echo boat launch about an hour an a half later. Racking, prepping and packing our gear in the parking lot, we heard the boat approaching and scuttled down to the dock. We hopped in and so did a couple of others who had arrived just in time. We made our way towards the Alpine Club of Canada hut, which is located on the shore of Mazinaw Lake. Once there, we unloaded the others gear and headed into the hut to fill out some waivers. Strangely, one of Dan’s friends from high school was inside. It was strange not only because he hadn’t seen her in a long time, but because we had actually been talking about her on the car ride up – WEIRD! Anyway, for some reason she had come to climb, but hadn’t brought any ropes or gear, again – WEIRD! So, she was not so subtly trying to convince us to take her and her friend with us. We declined and carried on our way.

Fig. 1 - Racking up in the parking lot (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

Fig. 2 - I'm on a boat!

Fig. 3 - Looking down at the boat

We got back in the boat and headed for the rock. We dropped Dan and Natasha off at the base of Birthday Ridge (5.0), which had a nice large area to set up on. Mark and I moved down the cliff to Boris’ Route, which involved hopping out of the boat and onto a small ledge a few meters above the water (which was about 100 feet deep, by the way). Well, we made it and began setting ourselves up to climb. It was very, very, cold at this point. Boris’ Route was completely in the shade and would remain that way (for me at least) until we reached the summit. Mark took off on the first pitch. I belayed in the cold, while he tried to follow the route. Bon Echo is known for difficult route finding. He eventually made it to the first belay. I followed, with the pack, and joined him. We quickly re-racked and I made my way up the second pitch.

Fig 4. - A shot of Bon Echo from Boris' Route

Bon Echo, because it was so cold, now ties Seneca for scariest place to climb, in my books. It was exposed, hard, run out, difficult route finding, and freezing – AKA awesome! I made my way up as best I could until I was in a corner, squirming my way upwards. I was about 20 feet above my last piece – a bad nut – when I realised if I fell, I would be in serious trouble. So, I backed off and managed to find an excellent tri cam placement. I felt much better and headed back up. Eventually, I found the two bolt anchor and tied in. I brought Mark up after he got to enjoy a belay in the sun.

Fig. 5 - Me climbing at Bon Echo (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

Mark began moving up the third pitch almost as soon as he reached my stance. He handed me the pack, I handed him some gear and he skedaddled. Like I said, route finding is difficult. Mark found this out by moving up the wrong way on the third pitch, which resulted in a down climb and traverse, but eventually he made it. Moving up to the last move – a small roof – he called out “Hey! There’s ice up here!” to which I replied through chattering teeth “great”. He set up a belay and I followed. Everything went OK, until I got to the roof. I was frozen through, by this point, and couldn’t look up because of the pack. I warmed my hands up by holding them out behind me in the sun, which hadn’t quite reached me yet. Eventually, with Mark’s beta, I found my way through the final move and joined him on top. It was warm, flat and great. We all met up and the four of us dined on some tuna, bagels and trail mix – delicious.

Fig. 6 - Lunching on top.

Fig. 7 - Natasha all trussed up.

We rapped off and met the boat at the base of Birthday Ridge. It took us over to One Pine (5.3). Dan and Natasha took it first. Mark followed them up and I followed him. It was easy. Now that the sun was hitting us it was almost too hot, haha. I met the three of them at a large block, which Dan had wrapped his rope around to build an anchor. We chatted for a minute and Dan started moving up again. Quickly, he was running low on rope. So, we had to build a new anchor, clip into that and take his apart. This gave him barely enough rope to finish the pitch, which was actually the second and third pitch’s linked together. Natasha followed. As soon as she was about 30 feet away, Mark started moving upwards again, since we had used my end of the rope to sling the block – D’oh! He made it about 40 feet before I realised the sun was quickly setting. He had at least 30 more minutes of climbing – minimum – , then I had to follow and we had a 5.0 down climb ahead of us, back to the base of the cliff. We had a decision to make.

Fig. 8 - Dan leading up One Pine.

I called up “I think we need to bail, the sun is going down”. To which I heard “I think you’re right”. So, we told Dan and Natasha to head down without us. Mark fixed a sling and I lowered him down to me, while he cleaned. Then we slung the block, threw the rope and rapped down to a scree-ish slope. From there, we pulled the rope and down climbed to the base of the face. Luckily, we made the decision we did, because it got dark as soon as we were down. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes until Dan, Natasha and the boat arrived. We went back to the base of Birthday Ridge to collect some others. They didn’t materialise soon enough, so the driver of the boat took us back to the boat launch, where we disembarked and thanked him for the ride.

Fig. 9 - Mark and I bailing off One Pine.

Loading back into the car, we took off for home. Along the way, we were stopped by a RIDE program. They looked in and almost immediately sent us on our way. I guess we look like a respectable bunch, or at least not like a gaggle of drunks. Later, we stopped at an A&W, had some dinner and re-racked our gear. We loaded back into the car and made for Kingston. Dan dropped us all off and the trip came to an end.

Fig. 10 - Re-racking at A&W (Photo courtesy of Daniel Rudmin)

It was a great end to a great season. Bon Echo was the last outdoor rock climbing trip of the season, for me anyway. Now we have a month or so of training ahead of us, a few peaks to do in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and then Dan and I are off to the Pyrenees in December. CAN’T WAIT!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vivre libre ou mourir!

A few weeks ago, I saw the following on my friend Steve Sagar’s facebook page – “Sexy Scuba Steve: What are you doing Thanksgiving weekend? if you can find a partner, want to come climbing at Mt Rumney!?”. To which I replied – “So, Steve ... I hear you need a partner for Rumney ...”. This is how I started the ball rolling for my Thanksgiving weekend plans. It turns out that Sexy Scuba Steve was being picked up in Kingston by his two friends from Waterloo and St. Catherine’s, on their way to Rumney, New Hampshire. So, I filled the slot of Steve’s partner for the weekend and it seemed like we were on our way to New Hampshire to clip some bolts for the long weekend. Note the word “seemed” as an obvious foreshadowing of plans to be changed.

Steve’s friends, Lee Anne and Travis, rolled in to town Thursday night to see their friend Dan. We were supposed to meet up with them at 4AM on Friday morning to go to New Hampshire and climb that day. However, the entire East coast of North America was being buffeted by rain storms. So, at the last minute (several hours before we were set to leave), we changed the departure time to 10AM. We were also told to lighten our loads, as Lee Ann and Travis had brought a fifth member for our trip and had driven in a two door sedan. I stripped down my kit to the lightest I could for a weekend in below freezing temperatures, rain, possible snow, etc. and left my trad rack behind completely. I arrived at our rendezvous point (the Shopper’s Drug Mart at Princess St. and Division) at the designated time and sat down, beside my minimal load. Soon after, Steve came walking down the street carrying a massive ruck sack and a second back pack. “Oh no!” I thought “we are never going to be able to fit all this gear into the car”. Well, I was wrong; we did manage to fit all the gear in. Lee Ann, Janina (the fifth member of our group) and I were just covered in gear, crammed in the back seat. Steve also lacked sufficient leg room for a comfortable trip.

Figure 1: In the car, on our way to Montagne D'Argent.

Figure 2: Travis wearing a helmet, while driving, for safety and to save room.

First we headed to Stauffer Library to print directions to Rumney. While there, Travis saw me move my passport from my bag to my pocket. “Why do you have your passport?” he asked. “Uh… because we are crossing international borders” I replied. “Ah… we didn’t bring ours…” he said. “Hmm…” we all thought. Anyhoo, it looked like we weren’t going to the USofA this weekend. So, I suggested Montagne D’Argent. Everyone agreed, and we were off like a herd of turtles.

The drive to Ottawa was uneventful and uncomfortable. We spent some time getting to know each other and just talking. In Ottawa, we stopped at the MEC to buy the guidebook for Montage D’Argent and lunch at “The Works”, as usual. Continuing to Montagne D’Argent was a rather boring trip through backwoods Quebec. Eventually, we found the camp site, set up and were ready to go. Unfortunately, it was cold, wet, raining and soon to be dark. So, we headed into town for supplies (namely beer). Grocery run complete, we came back to the camp and almost immediately hit the sauna. The reason Montagne D’Argent is such a great climbing area is not the climbing itself; it is the cheap beer, the hot sauna and the low camp fees. So, we made the most of all these great facets of climbing in Quebec.

Figure 3: Us on arrival at Montagne D'Argent

Figure 4: Us in the Sauna (a very common sight over the course of the weekend).

The next morning (Saturday), we made the decision that even though the weather was good, the rock was far to drenched for us to climb. So, we headed into town, looking for a place to slackline. We figured that we would probably find a park or something nearby that would suit our needs. After driving almost all the way to the resort area known as Mont Tremblant, we decided to just go there. Upon arrival we realised that parking would be very expensive. So, we headed for Steve’s Dad’s Girlfriend’s new condo. They were just moving into it that day and had offered to host us for a drink, anyway. Once there, we all put our helmets on and roped up, for safety of course, we were on a mountain, after all.

Figure 5: Roped up and climbing at Mont Tremblant.

After some brief chatting with Steve’s Dad and his Girlfriend, we headed into the resort village (still roped up and helmeted). On our way to the village, we bouldered every rock we saw. Once we arrived in the resort, we took the gondola to the top of the summer resort area, ate some beaver tails and started looking for a place to slackline. We discovered the best place for it, would probably be directly in front of the Marriott hotel, in the centre of the village. Only Steve could really do it. He was awesome; the rest of us could barely, if at all, stand on the line. We did get some good pictures that make it look like we can do it, though. While we were there, a guy who apparently had lived in Squamish for the past year came over to talk and try out the line. He was pretty interesting and promised to give us a deal at the Roots store he worked at, but we never went to visit him, oh well, it would have been expensive with or without the deal. Soon, we realised the rock would probably be dry, so we headed back to Montagne D’Argent.

Figure 6: More bouldering.

Figure 7: Lee Anne and I buying Beavertails for the group.

Figure 8: A picture that makes it look like I know how to slackline.

Figure 9: Steve actually slacklining.

Upon arrival, we headed to the cliffs, which were about one minute from our tents. Steve, Janina and I went to the Controverse area, while Travis and Lee Anne went to Le Fou. We climbed “Controverse” and “Friction Constitutionelle”, both rated 5.8. It went well. Steve lead both, Janina seconded and I went up and tore down the anchors. Once we had completed these, we headed to Le Fou to find Travis and Lee Anne. The sun was quickly setting, but we decided to try for a 3-pitch climb anyway. It was called “La Centenaire” and was only 5.8. I lead the first pitch, brought Steve up and then Janina. Upon Janina’s arrival, we decided it was too dark to continue and rapped off. I have done the climb before and the third pitch is the best one. Oh well, Steve and Janina will have to wait until next time to climb it. We got to the ground and headed back to camp. Basically, we repeated the previous night’s fun. We ate dinner, sat in the sauna for far too long and drank beer.

Figure 10: Tearing down the anchors on "Controverse".

Figure 11: Realising it was too dark to continue.

Sunday morning arrived and the weather was much better than Saturday morning. So, we headed to town, bought some food and ate a warmish breakfast. Once we thought the rock had warmed up, we made our way back to camp, collected our gear and went to the Grand Canyon area. The weather was great, other than the very cold temperatures, and we started climbing. We started on 5.10b called “Lucky Luke”. I had climbed it before, but it was fun. It is a relatively easy climb until the finger crack at the top. From there, we hopped on a few other climbs nearby, such as “La Cha-Cha des Felins” (5.9-), “Mauvaise Herbe” (5.10d) and “Le ‘Speech’ de Gaetan” (5.8+). They were all fun and everyone was having a good time. It started snowing, so Steve, Janina and I used the anchors from “Le ‘Speech’ de Gaetan” to top rope some easier trad climbs nearby, in our approach shoes and wool socks. Soon, the three of us moved back to camp and started cooking the turkey legs for dinner. Travis and Lee Anne stayed and climbed for a while longer. When they came back down to camp, we sent them for wine and chips, for dinner. While they were gone, several other groups joined the camp site. Upon their return, we cracked open a bottle of wine and ate our turkey legs. It was delicious.

Figure 12: Steve climbing in the Grand Canyon area.

Figure 13: Top roping trad routes in the freezing cold.

Figure 14: Cooking up some turkey legs.

One of the other groups asked if we needed anything from the grocery store, so I went with them and bought some more wine and chips. When I got back to camp, we decided to do an easy slab climb nearby. It was dark, but the climb was a bolted 5.3+ called “Deuxieme biere” and we couldn’t resist. We all lead it, in the dark, with headlamps. It was pretty fun, but the fun really started when we realised the slab was covered in slippery leaves. So, of course, we started climbing up about 20 or 30 feet and sliding down on the leaves. It was probably the most fun I have had in a while. We took some great pictures of ourselves sliding and had a blast. Soon, we ran out of leaves and headed back to camp. As usual, we moved into the sauna. The other groups probably thought we were crazy, since we stripped down in front of them, by the fire, and went to the sauna, but that is OK. We warmed up our muscles, relaxed and went back to the fire to join them. We all chatted for a while, until we got too tired. So, we retired to our tents.

Figure 15: Night climbing.

Figure 16: Night sliding.

Figure 17: More night sliding (it was fun, OK).

Monday morning, we struck camp quickly, headed for the car, loaded up and drove off. It was a highly uneventful trip home, with one McDonald’s stop along the way. Once back in Kingston we exchanged all the pictures so that everyone had copies. As soon as that was done, Travis, Lee Anne and Janina headed off for home. I went back to my apartment, took a shower to get the stink of four days off me and looked at the pictures.

All in all, it was a great trip and even though we didn’t make it too New Hampshire, I probably wouldn’t have changed it.